The final bill will not be unveiled until tomorrow, but Senators Kerry and Boxer (and their cosponsers) have managed to put together a bill that I believe is environmentally, economically and politically stronger than the House bill.

The Washington Post reports:

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will unveil a bill Wednesday that aims for a 20 percent reduction in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels by the year 2020, according to several sources and a close-to-final version of the bill obtained by The Washington Post.

Note: While that 800-page bill linked to above may be “close to final,” it will change in many places, so I would not rely on it too heavily for specific details.  Indeed, Greenwire (subs. req’d) reports an aide to Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chair Barbara Boxer (D-CA) saying, “It’s a snapshot in time of our restructure of the [House] bill, but it doesn’t really reflect where the bill is now.”

Certainly 20% is better than the House’s 17% — and more than justified by both the science and recent emissions trends (see “EIA stunner: By year’s end, we’ll be 8.5% below 2005 levels of CO2 — halfway to climate bill’s 2020 target“).

Unlike the Waxman-Markey bill, the Senate proposal preserves the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate large sources of greenhouse gases, such as coal-fired power pants.

That’s a good change, but it’ll be a huge fight to keep it.

“It’s clearly stronger than the House bill,” said Frank O’Donnell, who heads the advocacy group Clean Air Watch. “This very well may be the high-water mark for strong action on climate in this Congress, since it will face many efforts to erode it as it moves through the Senate.”

CP readers will not be surprised if that target changes as the bill winds its way through the Senate — and your 60 seconds to cry about that political reality is over …. now.  The bill keeps the key House targets of 42% cut by 2030 and 83% by 2050.

 

The Senate bill also aims to ease concerns among both Democrats and Republicans about the expanding carbon footprints of China and India, by requiring the head of the Environmental Protection Agency to issue a report each year “regarding whether China and India have adopted greenhouse gas emissions standards at least as strict as those standards required under this Act.”

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Not quite how I might have phrased the language, but then I didn’t write it.

The bill makes a monumental improvement over the House bill by adopting a version of the carbon collar I proposed, as discussed here:  In a “a sharp departure from the House measure,” Boxer climate bill to adopt a price collar for allowance auction.

The floor price is $11 (the draft bill above is, as I say, not final) and the ceiling is $28 — and they both starting rising 5% plus inflation each year.  The draft bill adds an excellent twist — from 2018 on the ceiling rises 7% plus inflation each year.  I hope that is true of the floor, also.  I’ll report back on that as soon as I know.

Fence-sitting Senators and industries can legitimately see the Carbon Collar as achieving stronger cost-containment protection than their analysis suggests the House bill now provides, including protection against speculators running the permit price up, while progressives can legitimately see it as achieving better environmental outcomes than their analysis suggests the House bill now provides. Win-win.

The bill also has stronger oversight of the carbon market, and since this is a major sticking point for many senators, I’m sure the language will get tougher:

Boxer and Kerry propose a different approach for oversight of the carbon market, which in the House bill is shared between FERC and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, with FERC regulating the cash market for allowances and offsets and CFTC handling the derivatives market.

The draft Senate plan, in contrast, would place the carbon markets under a single regulator — the brief carbon market section would have CFTC regulate both markets. It also broadly empowers the regulator to prevent manipulation of these markets and eliminate “excessive speculation” that adds to price volatility.

Lawmakers are likely to seek more detailed provisions that place controls on these markets.

The bill will have more support for coal with CCS (see “Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) joins key Dems in proposal to boost carbon capture and storage in climate bill“).  The sponsors are working hard to get Byrd to agree to support cloture, to be one of the 60 Senators needed to stop the inevitable, immoral filibuster by anti-science conservatives.  I mostly don’t care how much money they offer to CCS, since I doubt many such plants will be built, so I doubt most of that money will be spent.  The key point, though, is to make sure the final bill only subsidizes and incentivizes the incremental cost for CCS — and not the coal plant itself.

You can bet on both a strong natural gas title and a strong nuclear title in the final Senate bill — neither of which can be found in the House bill.

The Senate draft also has a modest nuclear title, although pro-nuclear senators are likely to push for significant incentives in the final measure. The bill’s nuclear title would steer money to the Energy Department for implementing programs to expand expertise in the nuclear field. Advocates of expanding U.S. nuclear power say there are not enough nuclear engineers and other experts to work on the hoped-for buildout of new reactors.

The nuclear title also has a section titled “Nuclear Waste Research and Development,” but it i
s left blank, stating “to be supplied.”

Again, one can throw money at nukes, but they have priced themselves out of the market for the foreseeable future — see “Nuclear Bombshell: $26 Billion cost — $10,800 per kilowatt! — killed Ontario nuclear bid.”

UPDATE:  E&E News PM (subs. req’d) reports on the natural gas incentives in the bill:

In an attempt to lure new advocates for the bill, the latest Boxer-Kerry draft would provide incentives for deploying natural gas-fired power plants beyond what the House climate bill provides.

The bill would establish an incentive fund to reward power generation sources that “replace or retire” power plants whose emissions exceed the 2007 average greenhouse gas emissions per megawatt-hour rate of the U.S. electric power sector and that do not receive a production or investment tax credit the year they are placed in service or in 2009. To receive the incentives, the replacement units must reduce emissions by increasingly steep levels below the 2007 targets through 2030.

Natural gas could qualify under the provision both as a fuel that produces 50 percent less carbon dioxide emissions than coal and as backup generation for wind, solar and other intermittent renewable energy. Intermittent backup resources are another category that would qualify for the incentives.

The draft is going to change many, many times in the coming weeks:

Both the early draft and the Boxer-Kerry bill due for release tomorrow will leave blank key information about how the senators intend to distribute hundreds of billions of dollars in emission allowances. Following the path of Democratic leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, those figures will come next month when Boxer releases a chairman’s mark of the bill before an EPW Committee markup….

Boxer plans to release another version of the legislation in mid-October as a chairman’s mark. Hearings are also expected next month, with an EPW Committee markup before November. Several other Senate committees are also planning to weigh in, with Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) the ultimate judge on what the bill looks like before the floor debate.

And it may not change in ways that progressives like:

Tony Kreindler, spokesman for the advocacy group Environmental Defense Fund, sent an e-mail to reporters Tuesday morning cautioning that the bill likely would change markedly in the coming weeks as the Senate Finance and Agriculture Committee weighs in, along with several centrist legislators who want to modify it, such as Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.) and Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.)

“Though the process sounds daunting, complex processes are part and parcel of passing major legislation,” Kreindler wrote. “The most important thing is that the draft be taken for what it is: a starting point that Senators can work with, tailor, and pass.”

Exactly.  What matters is the bill that ends up on Obama’s desk.

I’ll end with an excerpt from the post I wrote after Waxman-Markey passed the House:

My Salon piece, “One brief shining moment for clean energy” [notes] “the country can only contemplate serious environmental legislation when we have the unique constellation of a Democratic president and [large] Democratic majorities in both houses, an occurrence far rarer than a total eclipse of the sun.

This bill would complete America’s transition to a clean energy economy, which was begun in the stimulus (see “EIA projects wind at 5% of U.S. electricity in 2012, all renewables at 14%, thanks to Obama stimulus!“).  Within four decades, the vast majority of American’s carbon dioxide emissions and fossil fuel consumption will be replaced by the technologies discussed here:  “An introduction to the core climate solutions.”

This bill makes possible an international deal in Copenhagen this December….

As Nobelist Gore wrote earlier today, there was no “backup plan”….

The Kerry-Boxer bill is now the only game in town.

If you want a clean energy future with millions of clean energy jobs, this is the bill.  If you want a chance at a global climate deal and hence a chance at preserving a livable climate, this is the bill.  If you want to shut down most of the dirty coal plants in this country in two decades, this is the bill.

We’re all going to have to fight as hard as possible to keep this bill as strong as possible.  This bill is key to taking back control of America’s future from Big Oil, the corporate polluters and their lobbyists, and you can be sure they are going to fight as hard — and as dirty — as possible to kill it.